Common Tread

Should you cheer a motorcycle crash?

Oct 25, 2016

I think one of the few things we can all agree on is that crashing sucks. So is it ever OK to be happy — to cheer out loud — when a rider crashes?

It's a question that's come up again after this weekend's Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix race at Phillip Island.

In case you missed the race, Marc Márquez, with the championship already clinched, opened up a lead of more than two seconds in the early laps. Then he missed a braking marker — he later said the fault was entirely his — and crashed into the gravel, turning what looked like an inevitable win into his first DNF of the season.

Some were happy to see the crash, apparently, and cheered. (You can see Marquez's comments on his crash, a replay of the incident and the crowd's reactions in the MotoGP highlights video on YouTube.) Not everyone thought that was sporting behavior from the fans.

Others replied that it was "just human nature" and nobody wanted to see Márquez get hurt. They just wanted to see his comeuppance. David Emmett of Motomatters replied that the cheers were not for Márquez's crash, but for the possible Valentino Rossi victory. On the other side, at least one person who was in the crowd at Phillip Island tweeted to agree with Oxley and called the cheering around her "disgusting."

MotoGP video
In this shot from the MotoGP highlights video of the Phillip Island race, you can see some fans reacting to Marc Marquez's crash with shock, others happy and cheering. Image from MotoGP video.

So what's your take? Would you cheer a crash by a rider you didn't like, or a rider standing between your favorite racer and a win or a championship? Tell me what you think in the comments.

Now, here's my take.

Three reasons I won't cheer a crash

First, you can say all you want that, despite your cheers, you don't want to see anyone get hurt, but the reality is that crashes are chaotic, unpredictable events and even a simple, harmless-looking low-side can have lifetime repercussions. How many racing careers have been ended by a relatively minor crash that damaged a shoulder in a way that could never be repaired? Worse, one odd tumble or a motorcycle flipping over and landing on the rider and anything is possible.

One of those who disagreed with Oxley's tweet said people didn't want to see anyone get hurt. Oxley replied, so what happens if you cheer and then he is hurt? Do you "take it back" somehow?

Second, cheering misfortune has to be far less satisfying that cheering a hard-won victory. I realize many people watch racing the way they watch a stereotypical thriller movie. They want a good guy to cheer for, a bad guy to dislike and to see the good guy win in the end. Fair enough. That's not what attracts me to the sport, but I recognize it does matter. But how does seeing your guy win make you feel better if he only won because another rider crashed or his engine blew up? If your favorite rider fought back from a deficit and made a skilled pass to win, happy days! But winning because of another rider's misfortune is like watching that movie and seeing the good guy prevail not because he's smarter, stronger and has right on his side, but just because the bad guy happened to get cancer or something. Not as satisfying.

Third, cheering a crash makes me feel very uncomfortable in a "throwing Christians to the lions" (even if that's only legend) kind of way. One of the many things that alienates me from NASCAR, despite my general affinity for motorsports, is the way so much of the crowd cheers at multi-car crashes. Since crashing inevitably carries the risk of injury, if I'm the guy sitting safely in the stands with a beer and shouting in glee as the stock car metal crunches or the motorcycle goes cartwheeling, how am I not saying that someone else's potential death or dismemberment is suitable entertainment for me?

To me the perfect race is when riders don't crash because they show their skill and mastery in a way I can only dream of riding, battling to the end in a close and fair fight.

That's something I'd cheer about.